Sanskrit, Vedic and related studies (Indology), and Hinduism

Faculty of Humanities/Arts

The philological study of Old-Indo-Aryan (Sanskrit and Vedic) combined with related cultural studies, used to be called Indology. Whereas in other European countries such as Germany, England and France, the term Indology had been used since the late 19th century, it came into vogue in the Netherlands only after the 1950’s. In earlier days, the term indicated the education required for civil service in the Dutch East Indies. In the context of traditional Indology, cultural studies primarily refer to religious and philosophical studies, but may also refer to other disciplines (art history, archaeology, history, musicology), as long as these are Sanskrit-based. The study of the Middle-Indo-Aryan languages (Prakrit and Pali) is usually linked to Sanskrit studies.

History of Dutch Indology
South Asian studies started in the early 19th century at Leiden University with the study and teaching of Sanskrit. The first teachers were scholars in Semitic languages, especially Hebrew and Arabic. Some ten years after the establishment of the Leiden chair in Sanskrit in 1865, it was ordained by the Higher-Education Act 1876 that Sanskrit was a compulsary course in the curriculum of Dutch studies. This requirement made the teaching of Sanskrit necessary at the universities of Utrecht, Amsterdam and Groningen, where chairs for Sanskrit were founded in 1906, 1919 and 1962, respectively.

In 1921 the study of Indo-Iranian languages and cultures became a separate field of study. In addition to Sanskrit, it was now possible to graduate in South Asian art and archaeology, Indian philosophy, and Indian religions. Later on, New-Indo-Aryan (esp. Hindi) and Dravidian languages were added. Besides common courses (Sanskrit, Hindi, etc.), each of the four Indological departments developed its own specialisms: Leiden took the lead in Indo-Aryan linguistics, in Buddhology and Tibetology, in Hindu and Buddhist art history of Indonesia and in the socio-economical history of India. Utrecht specialized in Hindu culture, esp. the Hindu religions, literature and arts, in Indian musicology, tantric Hinduism, Indian philosophy and Dravidology. Amsterdam (UvA) focused on classical Sanskrit and its literature and the indigenous grammarians, while Groningen took the lead in the study of the Puranic tradition, pilgrimage places, Sanskrit medicine and Old Javanese. Read more on Sanskrit in Leiden, Utrecht, Amsterdam and Groningen.

In the late 1980’s, the Dutch universities were confronted with serious cuts in their budgets. The Indological department at the University of Amsterdam was closed down in 1988, while the Groningen department was transferred to the Faculty of Theology and reduced in size. A few years later the Indological departments of Leiden and Utrecht were merged together and located in Leiden.

Today, the Leiden Sanskrit department is the only to survive in its full form. At other universities, especially within the departments of religious studies, individual scholars have started teaching Sanskrit, be it only out of the necessity for their students to be able to study the written sources.